Shawn Lewis said he had no clue the Cal Poly men’s basketball team had trailed by 19 points when the team met in the locker room at halftime.
Of course, the Mustangs had trimmed visiting Pepperdine’s lead to 10 by that point, but Lewis still must have been the only person in Mott Gym whose mind wasn’t cycling back to his team’s win over Seattle just three days earlier — when the Mustangs crawled out of a 16-point hole to beat the Redhawks.
Even though a streak of improved shooting percentage ended at five, it was déjà vu all over again as Cal Poly (2-5) won its second straight game to follow its 0-5 start and remained unbeaten at home with an 83-77 comeback win over the Waves on Saturday.
Lewis had a season-high 22 points, freshman point guard Kyle Odister added career-highs of 16 points and five steals and junior college transfer Will Donahue scored a career-high 17 in the post.
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Fifteen of Lewis’ points came in the decisive second half, when the Mustangs finally stopped settling for bad shots and began taking the ball to the basket.
“We always come out and think we’re going to make all the 3-pointers,” Lewis said, “and we get kind of shocked when a team comes out and pressures a lot. We think we have to make something happen when all we really have to do is stay composed.”
Lewis, who had three steals, three blocks and a career-high and team-leading five assists, followed an Odister 3-pointer with a steal and a breakaway dunk to give the Mustangs a 62-59 lead with 8:07 left in the game.
Prior to that sequence, Cal Poly hadn’t led since Lewis had a similar breakaway dunk to make it 2-1 in the opening moments, but the Mustangs never relinquished the advantage again as Lorenzo Keeler, Odister and Lewis sealed the game at the free-throw line late.
Keeler had 11 points, and David Hanson tied a career high for the second straight game with 10 points, but it wasn’t Cal Poly’s shooting that changed the course of the game.
When Pepperdine pushed its lead to 19, Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero switched from his matchup zone to a man-to-man defense, which allowed the Mustangs to defend better against the dribble drive and position themselves for defensive rebounds more effectively.
The ability to switch between defenses created strip opportunities for Lewis, Odister and junior college transfer Will Taylor, who had two steals to go with five points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
“We were switching the defenses up,” Odister said. “They think one thing’s going to happen, then coach Callero switches it. They start getting lackadaisical, so that’s when I make my move.”
Odister has been sharing minutes with sophomore Justin Brown, who engineered much of the comeback effort against Seattle, but clearly took charge Saturday, logging a game-high 35 minutes and committing just two turnovers.
“They both watch a lot of film, and they’re both very coachable,” Callero said. “They complement each other. Tonight was Kyle’s night, but Justin’s needed. He’s definitely needed, and he’ll keep competing for that time.”
The breakout game for Lewis was also significant in showing his growth adapting to Callero’s system in the coach’s first year guiding the Mustangs.
With an eagerness to pull the trigger on quick 3-pointers that worked for him last season under former coach Kevin Bromley, Lewis began the season coming off the bench for Callero because of that same eagerness.
He still went 1 for 5 from 3-point range Saturday, but Lewis’ assist total also showed he is more understanding of what Callero wants him to do: Drive and dish.
“Last year, we definitely had a totally different type of system,” Lewis said. “I was still stuck on that system. I’m starting to buy in more. I trust him a lot more now because I see how everything works. It turned out great. I love it.”
Said Callero: “Shawn’s biggest strength for us is to turn that corner with his left hand, get to the paint and kick out or kick in or finish himself. But I think the biggest improvement in Shawn is his defense.
“He’s got such long arms, he’s getting better position defensively. That’s where I think he’s earning that starting spot for us.”